This address asks how much has education contributed to social mobility in post-war Britain and considers other factors that may have contributed as much or more: labour-market opportunities, trends in income inequality, gender differences and ‘compositional effects’ deriving from the shape of the occupational hierarchy. Even where these other factors proved much more powerful – especially labour-market opportunities and compositional effects – democratic discourse both among politicians and among the electorate remained fixated on educational opportunities and outcomes, especially after the decline of the Croslandite critique of ‘meritocracy’. That fixation has if anything been reinforced by the apparent end to a ‘golden age’ of absolute upward mobility for large sections of the population, not necessarily because education is an effective antidote but because the alternative political solutions are so unpalatable both to politicians and to voters.
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